The end of a romantic relationship can be devastating for some people, especially if the significant other continues to be in close proximity or frequent contact after the breakup. It is intensely difficult to be the one ending a relationship, as well as to be the one who has been dropped. Students are often caught off guard by how emotionally difficult and intense such an experience can be, and sometimes people feel their life will never return to normal or be the same.
In reality, the traditional ages for college students are a time of great exploration and learning about intimate relationships, so it is well within the range of normal to experience what seemed to be a very close, intimate relationship that ends in a difficult way. Often the very intense and confusing feelings are magnified or extended when people try to “work on” the relationship, spending a great deal of time together talking about what went wrong and what could be different to make the relationship work, or when they immediately try to move into being close friends without the romantic part of the relationship.
When a relationship ends, it is normal to feel sadness, anger, fear, and pain. It is important to take time to validate the importance of the lost relationship and to mourn its ending. It is vital to seek out caring and supportive friends and to be open with how you are feeling and how they can support you. At the same time, be respectful of their limits and know that they may need to set some boundaries on what they are able to offer in terms of support. When we can’t stop an undesired relationship ending, we can feel very frightened and out of control, or can spend a lot of time thinking about how to repair the relationship or to punish the person who hurt us. These kinds of thoughts can keep us stuck in our pain. With a shift in focus, this can instead be a good time to reflect on what was learned in the relationship and for practicing skills for coping with loss.
Good strategies for coping with loss start with the basics: getting regular and adequate sleep every night, eating three meals a day, and getting exercise on a daily basis. Calling on friends not only for emotional support but support for going to meals, relaxing, exercising, studying in a new location, and doing something new and different on the weekend will help. At the same time, it is important to take some time to experience the things you are feeling and not to just push them away. Expand or alter your interests and leisure activities, and be patient with the amount of time it takes before feeling better. Reconnect with your spiritual self in whatever way makes sense, such as meditating, going to church, exploring the outdoors, etc. Doing something caring for another person is also a way to work on moving forward and finding hope for the future.
If at the end of a relationship you are feeling you can’t function academically or are unable to eat or sleep for more than a few days, or are having thoughts of suicide, seek support through the Counseling Service, College Ministries, your hall staff, or another support person.